A week-and-a-half-ago, I fell down the stairs. We have a new puppy; she can’t manage the stairs herself. It was a snowy evening and I had just taken her out to pee for the 18th time in the last few hours. I was carrying her in my arms, and wearing my partner’s oversized flip-flops in the snow. My wet, poorly clad feet hit the steep stairs leading down to our basement apartment and almost immediately slid out from under me. Some Wolf Mother chemical was released in my brain; I curled my body around the puppy, cradling her carefully as I was briefly airborne. Not catching myself, I took the full weight of the fall right on my ass, landing on the narrow edge of a wooden step.
As soon as I could move, and was relatively certain I didn’t have spinal damage, I hobbled into the house and asked my alarmed partner to take a picture of the damage. I uploaded the image to my Twitter feed. Every 12 hours, I issued an update on the ever-expanding bruise that spread first over one entire butt cheek, then crept over my tailbone and then sent blue and green tendrils around my opposite hip. The major bruise was first an angry, bleeding red, then so purple it was almost black. Gradually, it began to lighten and yellow, becoming almost wispy at the edges, like an exploding nebula. A couple of times a day, I photo-documented the progress of the #buttnebula.
My life is extremely public. The way I live and write, the way I have branded myself, necessitates this, in part. As a writer and editor for primarily online publications, a huge chunk of my time, my personality, exists online. My existence online provides me with attention, reassurance and companionship. I have built genuine relationships, personal and collegial, online, and the more I share, the deeper and increasingly authentic those connections have become.
More often than not, we hear about the dangers of living publicly, of existing online, of being open and identifiable—the more personal information we share, the more that information can be accessed. We can be found; we can be stalked. Online harassment is becoming evermore prevalent; in a recent high-profile case in the Toronto political community, such activity resulted in criminal charges against the alleged harasser. In some cases, it’s the victims who suffer violence, sometimes at their own hands, out of despair. In the darkest, dankest parts of the Internet, bigotry and villainy maintain a deep stranglehold. Sharing too much, living too publicly, is often seen as a risk factor, as a weakness that can attract the more disgusting, virulent trolls.
So why risk it? Why open up about my anxiety disorder and the fact that I write in my pyjamas or my underwear, covered in a delicate layer of Cheeto dust? Why expose my insecurities and less flattering angles? Why post when I am tired, frustrated or drunk? Why upload pictures of my bruised, nebulous ass?
The other side of living publicly is that it can be done for protection. The shadow side of exposure is that online communities feature very real people at the opposite end of all of the avatars, which is both wonderful and awful. It means that, at vulnerable moments, monsters may be able to find you; it also means that, in a pinch, if your online community is good, strong and real, you have a hell of a posse to call upon.
Online communities can ride to the rescue during Twitter fights and flame wars, can lend support to drown out the snarling of trolls, can use their networks to disseminate your messages further. When I was called a “groce count” (I think he meant “gross cunt” in Common Troll) and began to receive threats of violence for beginning a column on women’s contributions to heavy metal, my online community offered love, support and turned the insult into a badge of honour, a compliment, a title.
More than that, living publicly protects me in the real world. My online community knows where I am, what events I am going to and where I am supposed to be. If I don’t show up, they check in. If I suddenly go silent, they get in touch.
I was drugged at a show about a year-and-a-half ago. The venue, a putrid place with terrible sound near Toronto’s Poulson Pier, insists on pouring bottled beer into clear plastic, wide-brimmed cups. While Suicide Silence raged on stage, a man behind me kept inching closer and closer, eventually pressing his erection into my back. I moved; I tweeted about what happened. He found me again. I tweeted again and fled to the back of the room. A friend (a security guard at the venue) found me and asked if I was all right; he’d been reading Twitter. I was, I thought, but suddenly felt ill—dizzy. My community, and partner, urged me to get in a cab immediately. I did. By the time I got home, I couldn’t stand, speak or take off my shoes without assistance. The next day, an emergency trip to our family doctor turned up Rohypnol in my system.
If I had gone silent instead of going home, my partner would have been alerted quicker, my friends at the venue would have come to find me sooner. My friends in security would have stopped the man trying to escort, or carry, me out at the door, having seen the narrative of the night. The promoter would have done more than say he hoped I felt better soon as I staggered out the door. I feel infinitely safer, more protected from violence, exploitation and harm, when I am actively living online than when I am off. Instead of texting a single friend to let them know I am home safe, I can let a community of 3,000 know.
Okay, so maybe posting pictures of my bruised butt online, broken blood vessels resembling spiralling galaxies, doesn’t make me safer. But living a good portion of my life there does. The dismissal that “she’s doing it for attention” is more false and limiting than people believe, and ignores that fact that someone on the Internet is always waiting up for you.